"You Are In A Bad Fix"
Gen. Edwin Vose Sumner, Union Second Corps Commander
(1) As the battle shifted away from the Cornfield, Gen. John Sedwick's division of Federal troops, personally led by corps commander Gen. Edwin Sumner, advanced from the East Woods. Sumner's plan was to move into the West Woods, hit the Confederates in the flank and drive them toward Sharpsburg. Over 5,000 Union soldiers marched out of the East Woods and headed toward the West Woods at 9:15 a.m.
(2) Along with other Confederate forces, Gen. Lafayette McLaws's division went into battle to shore up the left end of the Confederate battle line. As they pressed into the West Woods from one side, Sedgwick's Union soldiers moved in from the other. The result of this convergence was disastrous for the Union soldiers.
(3) Union Pvt. Roland Bowen remembered, "The rebs saw their advantage and with grape and canister and musketry they mowed us down." Confederates attacked from three sides into the flanks of the Federal line. The fighting was so confusing that men from New York fired into the backs of the soldiers in front of them. Within twenty minutes, the Union troops fell back from the West Woods toward the north and east.
(4) As Sedgwick's men fled the West Woods, the other two divisions of the Second Corps assaulted the Sunken Road. Sedgwick had lost 2,200 out of 5,300 men in twenty minutes. The 15th Massachusetts suffered 340 casualties, the highest number for any regiment on the field during the battle. By 11:00 a.m. other Union soldiers held a portion of the West Woods around the Dunker Church. Within an hour they too were driven back to the East Woods. Federal forces did not venture west of the Hagerstown Turnpike for the remainder of the day.
Gen. William E. Starke
Starke took command of the Stonewall Division early that morning after Gen. John R. Jones was stunned by an artillery shell and left the field. The onslaught of the Union First Corps began to drive his men back. Starke led a counterattack out of the West Woods. He was wounded three times and died within the hour. His body was returned to Richmond where he was buried in Hollywood Cemetery.
Flag of the 125th Pennsylvania Infantry
In their first battle, the men of the 125th were on the left flank of the Union advance into the West Woods, where they took the brunt of the Confederate attack. Color bearer Sgt. George Simpson was killed instantly. The flag was saved and was brought back forty-two years later for the dedication of the regiment's monument behind the Dunker Church. For the veterans, seeing the flag again revived in them the "recollections and emotions of that exciting and strenuous day."
West Woods Massacre
Approximate Time of Action: 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
Approximate Number of Soldiers engaged:
Approximate Number of Casualties for Each Army:
Union Army of the Potomac 2,300 killed, wounded, missing
Confederate Army of Northern Virginia 2,000 killed, wounded, missing